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Fail to prepare = prepare to fail

Yes, it may be a cliche- but it’s true. If you are selected for an interview it’s vital that you spend time preparing. You may be surprised how many don’t do this- and very rarely will they get an offer. A lot will be expanding on research you have already done when applying, but I would say you need to invest at least another hour to prepare, and ideally more.

You need to research the business, at the very minimum looking at the website; learn a bit about them and what they do. You may be asked ‘what do you know about us’ and it can be very awkward if you can’t say anything (of course you should have been on the website before, but doing a bit more research will help). You don’t need to memorise a huge amount, but perhaps have a sentence or two to summarise. If it’s a technical type role think about how your duties would fit in with the bigger picture. If it’s a more commercial role then you really need to be looking at other things like their social media channels, and competitors.

Go through the job description again, and make sure you are ready to discuss this if asked. And be ready to address any potentially difficult issues if there are any, such as a 2:2 degree, or a gap in employment.

Two examples here show a lack of preparation: one graduate wore a crumpled t-shirt to a zoom interview for a consultancy position (having not read the interview tips I sent); the feedback was that he ‘looked like he had just got up’ and he literally had- as I called him 5 minutes before to check he was prepared. He then dropped the bombshell that he didn’t have a shirt as he was not at his home. Another graduate did a Zoom interview on his phone, logged on late and spend the first 5 minutes adjusting the position (and was asked to remove a coffee cup that was in front of the screen, blocking the view).

On the other side, an employer I work with had been looking for someone with knowledge of a specific type of software that is not in common use (it’s not taught at university and there are not a lot of experienced candidates available); we spoke about a Plan B which was someone with experience of another type of software, albeit they had concerns for long-term commitment as it would be a bit of a change in industry. I spoke with a graduate who said he was very interested, they agreed to see him, In the days before the interview he downloaded a tuition package and started learning the software- which really did create a very good impression. They decided to offer him the job almost as soon as they heard that.

Questions

Initially you may be asked to tell the interviewer about yourself; its often just to break the ice, and help you relax- and also so they can learn a bit more about you. Some may mean in relation to work / studies; others may mean more a more general answer. In general a mix of the two may be best.

You may often be asked a competency based question, for example ‘tell me about a time you…’ It’s not always easy to predict what these will be, but in general these will be related in some way to the duties or skills required. A good way to answer this is the STARR method:

Situation: A situation you were in, or perhaps a task you were working on;

Task: What did you need to do, why, what challenges did you face;

Action: What did you do- if it was a team example then make sure you focus on your involvement;

Result: What was the outcome, include any recognition or accomplishments;

Reflection: Was there anything you changed, or took forward with you, afterwards.

Try and choose an example with a positive outcome, including where you learned something.

You may also be asked strengths based questions, which are more about you. It could be about strengths and weaknesses, what motivates you, why you want the job. Again, try and focus the answer on things that are relevant to the role.

Overall, try not to say the first thing that comes to mind, think before answering- and if needed ask if you can have a short time to consider an answer. And try and give responses that are related to work, even if the work was not directly related to the role you are applying for. Education examples, for example using writing an essay as an example of working to a deadline, can often lack a real dynamic effect.

At the end you may be asked ‘have you any questions for us?’ and it won’t give a good impression if you say no, so try and have a few memorised (or write them in a notebook and ask if its ok to refer to this). In general, I would say two is ideal, any more may be pushing it a bit. If your interview is with a line-manager, then something technical would be ideal, but if it’s with a more general manager or someone from human resources just be aware that they may not be able to answer anything too technical, so maybe ask about the company culture, what they enjoy about working there, or opportunities for development. Avoid asking about things like salary or holidays; or things you should know already, such as what the business does.

Other things to bear in mind

Thank the interviewer for their time at the end, and then either call or email your recruiter asap afterwards to give feedback- this is important in case the employer calls the recruiter to discuss.

There may be an initial online interview through Zoom or Teams for example, or maybe by telephone. Remember, these are still interviews so treat them with equal importance. Make sure you are somewhere that you will be undisturbed, and if online try and get somewhere with a plain or uncluttered background if possible, or make use of the ‘background effects’ option if there is one. If its online and you are using your phone, make sure it is positioned properly so they can see you. And make sure you have the email ready so you are ready to join the meeting on time.

In terms of clothing, in certain businesses including more creative type environments, the dress code will be expected to be more relaxed. In most other environments I would say you need to be smarter. For females there is more scope for different types of dress; for males, it was always a suit, tie and shirt, but now that is also more relaxed to some extent- but I would always say at minimum a shirt, trousers and shoes. And make sure shoes are polished and clothes ironed.

For face-to-face interviews make sure you know where it is, and how you will get there- plan to get there early, maybe ½ hour or so. You can wait somewhere nearby, then go into the offices 10 minutes before the interview.

If you get nervous then there are some things that may help, such as making sure you breathe deeply, and maybe even saying to the interviewer that you are slightly nervous as you really want the job; this in itself can show a bit of confidence, and also lessen the risk of the mistaking nerves for something else, such as lack of preparation, or disinterest. The interviewer liked you enough to invite you for an interview, so they will want to help you do your best.

This guide is a summary of some of the key areas, if you would like to find out more about certain areas then an internet search will bring up more information.